Several authors have objected to the notion that thoughts or ideas go on, separate from the words and movements that we see and hear. Here is Wittgenstein (Philosophical Investigations, p. 107):

“When I think in language, there aren’t ‘meanings’ going through my mind in addition to the verbal expression”

Or Merleau-Ponty:

“The word and speech must somehow cease to be a way of designating things or thoughts, and become the presence of that thought in the phenomenal world, and, moreover, not its clothing but its token or body” (Phenomenology of Perception, p. 182)

Or, once more, Maxine Sheets-Johnstone:

“Movement is not a medium by which thoughts emerge but rather, the thoughts themselves, significations in the flesh, so to speak” (Thinking in Movement, p. 400)

The words or movements point in two ways: towards the subject and towards the world. In neither case, does it help to posit a mysterious gap, back to ideas, or forward to some referent.  If we separate the words and movements from the ideas, we bring into being a mysterious entity, nowhere to be found, whose constitution we must guess, imperfectly, from that which is manifest. This is the psychological golem.  If we separate the word from that which is spoken of, we conjure up the mystery of aboutness or intentionality.

With care, we can move backwards or forwards from the word or gesture, but we must do so slowly, like the patient archeologist, uncovering sedimented traces, slowly brushing off one level, to get to the next one down, and resisting the urge to jump directly to the bottom.  Tracing backwards, we find, not ideas, but context – the dialogical, dynamic, flow within which the words or gestures arose, and meaning is constructed together.  Tracing forward, we find the same.

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